For watching TV or for PC gaming without disturbing the neighbors or sleeping kids, wireless home-entertainment headphones aim to give you realistic sound without being tethered to a cord. Note that this type of headphone isn't portable; you'll need to be within range of the base station transmitter that's hooked up to your TV or plugged into your computer.
Among this type of headphone, reviewers say that the Sennheiser RS 160 (*Est. $200) headphones are the best home-theater wireless model for the money. They use Kleer wireless technology, which was introduced in 2008, to stream lossless, CD-quality audio over a 2.4 GHz frequency without the interference common to other types of radio-frequency wireless headphones. Kleer technology has a larger wireless range and it also uses less power than Bluetooth, so battery life is a lot longer. The RS 160 wireless headphone's on-the-ear design features thick padding that reviewers find comfortable. A small base station, which can run on batteries or electrical power, transmits to a range of up to 60 feet. Each earpiece runs on a single AAA rechargeable battery, which Sennheiser says will run for 24 hours of continuous listening per charge.
"Audio definition is excellent," says Pocket-Lint.com's Chris Hall, "but does lie towards the bassy side, which can mean you lose some delicate detail." While not appropriate for "walking the streets," Hall says that the RS 160 headphones are comfortable to wear, yet solidly built. Gary Marshall, writing for TechRadar.com, says "the difference between the Kleer-powered set and traditional cordless headphones was dramatic," with the RS 160 delivering "superb, crystal-clear sound without the slightest hint of the hissing and pulsing that affects FM models." Britain's What Hi-Fi? gives the RS 160 a 4- out of 5-star rating: "The presentation is extremely crisp and clean all round, but there's also lots of taut, deep bass," the editors say. A slightly aggressive performance with high notes keeps the publication from awarding the Sennheiser headset a perfect score.
Those looking for more pristine wireless audio might consider Sennheiser's more advanced Kleer-based headphones, the Sennheiser RS 170 (*Est. $250) or Sennheiser RS 180 (*Est. $300). Both sets of wireless headphones are praised by reviewers, and the RS 170 gets a Recommended award at TrustedReviews.com, where reviewer Stuart Andrews calls them "among the best wireless headphones around." The RS 170 headphones boast audio features like extra bass and surround sound that the RS 160s lack, in addition to a docking station that acts as a transmitter and a charger. The headphones also have a much larger range (up to 260 feet).
The RS 180 receives more critical nods than the RS 160, but it also receives more critical complaints, possibly because of its price tag. For their part, the editors of GoodCans.com find the Sennheiser RS 180 to be the best choice for true audiophiles. They feature open-style earpieces, which according to GoodCans.com and Wired, provide more natural sound, though the trade-off is more sound leakage in and out -- there's no noise-cancellation to be found here. The range on the RS 180 wireless headphones is rated at a maximum of 320 feet -- although Wired warns that the operational range is actually closer to 100 feet. The editors at What Hi-Fi? award the RS 180 a perfect rating. The magazine's editors list only one con, price, though they still consider the headphones a good purchase. "There's great tonal balance throughout, genuine dynamic expression, and excellent weight. The RS 180s are great, and easily justify their price tag."
All three Kleer-based Sennheiser headphones receive excellent user reviews, so you'll probably end up happy no matter which model you select. Still, they don't receive nearly as much owner appreciation as the older Sennheiser RS 110 (*Est. $50) and Sennheiser RS 120 (*Est. $70) headphones. Despite being more than seven years old, the RS 110 and RS 120 headphones are still available, and because they're based on simple RF technology, they carry a lower price tag than the highly regarded Kleer models. Of the two, the Sennheiser RS 120 receives more praise and attention; it gets more than 1,800 users reviews at Amazon.com alone.
While CNET's Steve Guttenberg says that the RS 120's cushions are lightweight and comfortable, they may be a bit too lightweight; several users complain about the headphone's loose fit. Reviewers also say the volume and transmitter buttons are positioned too close together, which results in errant button pushes.
The RS 120's sound quality is praised by both critics and users. "With their excellent detail resolution, the RS120s shined on DVDs and CDs, although their bass power and definition were only fair," Guttenberg writes. One notable negative compared to Sennheiser's newer and more expensive wireless headphones is that, because of the different wireless technologies, you could run into hissing and static if other wireless devices such as cell phones or Wi-Fi routers interfere with the RS 120's signal. Former About.com guide Matthew Flores also reports excellent audio results, but he warns that the RS 120's signal weakens if there are walls between the headset and base unit. "In order to get the 300' range, the signal probably requires an unobstructed path between the receiver and transmitter," he writes. Users also say they appreciate the functionality and ease of use of the battery-recharging base unit.
The Pioneer SE-DIR800C Cordless Surround Headphones (*Est. $250) are also well regarded, but pricey. Experts say the price is justified by their excellent audio quality. Reviewers praise the surround-sound experience, which precisely mimics the high and low notes of movies and music -- from sounds bouncing off walls to creatures sneaking up behind you. Listeners get the majority of the action, while those in the next room hear nothing. However, these are infrared headphones, so you need to stay within sight of the base unit to keep the connection.